Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, June 1990, Page 9

Special Report

An Assassination in Switzerland

By Richard H. Curtiss

As U.S. military aircraft headed west from Damascus with ailing American hostage Alan Polhill, released from captivity in Lebanon April 22, and malnourished and angry American hostage Frank Reed, released April 30. American media depicted the releases as a triumph within Iran's Islamic Revolutionary regime of "moderates," headed by Iranian President Ali Akhbar Hashemi Rafsanjani.

A check of air traffic headed east, however, leads to different conclusions. In the brief interval between the releases of the two Americans by Iranian-backed Lebanese Shi'i kidnappers, terrorists allegedly operating from the Iranian Embassy in Berne and the Iranian consulate in Geneva assassinated Dr. Kazem Rajavi, a distinguished Iranian opposition leader.

A Quick-and Assisted-Exit

Immediately after the assassination, Iran Air delayed the departure of its weekly direct flight from Geneva to Tehran for an hour and 18 minutes. Then, after some passengers arriving in a flurry of Iranian diplomatic vehicles were hustled through airport formalities and directly onto the aircraft, it took off for Tehran. With it, colleagues of the slain Iranian opposition leader said, went two officials sent to Switzerland to manage the assassination. They were Hadi Najafabadi, Iranian ambassador to the United Arab Emirates, and an Iranian named Akhoundzadeh, said to be the coordinator of his government's terrorism abroad.

Their actions and escape, members of the Iranian resistance charged, were carried out under the supervision of Mohamed-Hossein Mala'ek, Iran's ambassador to Switzerland. In 1979, Mala'ek was one of the "Students Following the Line of the Imam" who held American diplomats hostage in the U.S. Embassy in Tehran for 444 days until 15 minutes after the inauguration of President Ronald Reagan in January 1981. Mala'ek later worked with the same Hezbollah extremists still holding American hostages in Lebanon.

Americans once discounted stories of presidential emissaries traveling on false passports to conduct shady secret missions. Then, in May of 1986, former White House National Security Adviser Robert C. (Bud) McFarlane turned up at the Tehran airport. He was disguised as an Irish cargo handler and bearing a Bible signed by President Reagan and an Israeli cake in the shape of a key. He was engaged in an Israeli-recommended "opening to Iranian moderates," supposedly led by present Iranian President Hashemi Rafsanjani.

The assassinated Dr. Kazem Rajavi was the brother of Massoud Rajavi, the Iraq-based leader-in-exile of Iran's largest opposition movement, the People's Mojahedin. Dr. Rajavi's murder is just one more blood-soaked chapter in the history of an Iranian fundamentalist regime which apparently hasn't changed at all, since Rafsanjani inherited the mantle of leadership from the late Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini. It is portrayed as "moderate" only by pro-Israel elements in the U.S. media and Washington think tanks who still hope to restore the Israel-Iran axis that prevailed in the time of the Shah.

Kazem Rajavi, 56, was shot in the head at close range by one of two machine gun-wielding men in a Volkswagen that blocked the road as he was driving to his home outside Geneva on April 24. Married and the father of three children, he had held a professorship for more than 10 years at Geneva University, in addition to representing the Iranian Resistance at the Council fo Europe in Strasbourg and Geneva-based United Nations organizations. In 1971, when his brother Massoud was sentenced to death by a military tribunal serving the Shah, Kazem Rajavi led a successful international campaign which resulted in commutation of his brother's sentence to life imprisonment.

Kazem Rajavi, who quit after serving for one year as the Khomeini regime's first ambassador to the European headquarters of the U.N., had requested increased protection from Swiss authorities in 1987 after he was threatened by an Iranian official with a gun. Recently he requested it again after Siroos Nasseri, current Iranian ambassador to the United Nations in Geneva, told him in the presence of witnesses in late February that he would be "liquidated." Another senior Mojahedin leader, Hossein Mir-Abedine, was wounded in an unsuccessful March 14 assassination attempt in Turkey.

People's Mojahedin spokespersons in the United States said there were tape recordings of Iran's consul general reporting immediately after the shooting that one of the assassins was safe in the Iranian consulate in Geneva. Swiss authorities promised a vigorous investigation.

People's Mojahedin leader Massoud Rajavi, whose first wife and sister were both executed by the Khomeini regime, said the assassination of his brother was the result of a recent report by U.N. Special Representative Reynaldo Galindo Pohl claiming that Iran's leaders had ceased torturing and publicly executing political prisoners in Tehran's notorious Evin prison.

"75 Kinds of Torture"

Last April 11th in Geneva, Dr. Rajavi charged that the U.N. report was in error. He said that of more than 90,000 Iranians executed by the Islamic Revolution regime in the past 10 years, 23,000 of the executions were carried out after the August 1988 ceasefire with Iraq, and many of those since Khomeini's death in June 1989 and Rafsanjani's assumption of power. The assassinated leader had also claimed the regime presently holds 150,000 political prisoners, and routinely practices "75 kinds of torture."

On May 10, Congressman Jim Bates (D-CA) paid tribute in the U.S. House of Representatives to the slain Dr. Rajavi and called upon President Bush and the U.N. secretary general to "take all necessary steps" to halt "the cowardly acts of terrorism." On May 15, Congressman Thomas J. Bliley, Jr. (R-VA) also paid tribute to Dr. Rajavi as "a great educator and a paradigm of service to the cause of human rights in Iran."

Dr. Rajavi's body was interred in Kerbala, Iraq, the burial place of the Prophet Muhammad's murdered grandson, Hussein. Ironically, in the absence of a peace treaty with Iraq, only Iranian opponents of their country's fundamentalist regime are able to visit this holiest shrine, after Mecca, for Shi'i Muslims, the majority branch of Islam in Iran.

Richard H. Curtiss is chief editor of the Washington Report on Middle East Affairs.

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